Department of Art History

Art Writing, Fashionability and Exhibition Culture


Art Writing, Fashionability and Exhibition Culture – Dr Meaghan Clarke

Funder: This research has been funded by the Leverhulme, Harry Ransom Center and British Academy and supervisor or principal investigator on AHRC and Leverhulme doctoral and postdoctoral projects concerning connoisseurship, women's writing, photography, collecting and domestic interiors. These include collaborative projects with Charleston Trust, Royal Pavilion, National Portrait Gallery and National Trust. 

Art Writing

The fin de siècle was a particularly crucial period in Britain, not only marking the inception of new periodicals, such as the Studio, Connoisseur and Burlington Magazine, but also the demise of the great Victorian journals the Art Journal and the Magazine of Art. This period also saw dramatic changes in exhibition culture; the rise of new galleries meant a plethora of spaces for viewing art in the metropole outside of the Royal Academy. In addition, overseas correspondents made readers increasingly aware of exhibitions in Europe and beyond, signalling what scholars have recently identified as an increasingly cosmopolitan outlook in London. Although men have primarily been associated with the writing of art history, women art writers played a pivotal role in the articulation and dissemination of knowledge about art objects and collections.  Not surprisingly, reviews and articles written by women within the art press have been largely overlooked in scholarship, in part because their contributions were often pseudonymous or indeed anonymous.    This research argues that in fact numerous professional women writers debated the key questions of the day such as the role of academic art,  cosmopolitanism, the development of modernism, connoisseurship and collecting. 

Fair Women, Fashionability and Exhibition Culture

In 1894 a tremendously popular exhibition opened in London. Fair Women was comprised of both historical and contemporary portraits of women as well as decorative objects ranging from miniatures to fans, clothing and jewellery. Fair Women garnered extensive reviews in the press and is an example of a ‘blockbuster’ exhibition at the end of the nineteenth century. The collection of portraits was wide-ranging: from Classical and Renaissance to Eighteenth Century and Victorian examples. The exhibition, organised by a Ladies Committee, opened to great fanfare in the recently built Grafton Galleries on Bond Street. The Fair Women exhibition spawned a series of similar exhibitions both in London and the United States culminating in the 1908-10 series of Fair Women exhibitions organised by the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers. 

These exhibitions have conventionally been read as nostalgic enterprises that attempted to reify eighteenth-century female beauty and behaviour alongside contemporary representations of late-Victorian and Edwardian opulence.  However, the diversity of works displayed and the reception of the exhibitions reveal a more complicated narrative, bringing nostalgia into conflict with British art’s cosmopolitanism and engagement with modernity.  

Related Publications:

‘The Art Press at the fin de siècle: Women, Collecting and Connoisseurship’ Visual Resources, 2015 forthcoming.

‘Seeing in Black-and-White: Incidents in Print Culture’. Art History, 35 (3), 2012. pp. 574-595.

‘Sex and the city: the Metropolitan New Woman’. In: Bonett, Helena, Holt, Ysanne and Mundy, Jennifer (eds.) The Camden Town Group in context. The Tate, 2012. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/meaghan-clarke-sex-and-the-city-the-metropolitan-new-woman-r1105659

‘Critical Mediators: Locating the Art Press’. Visual Resources, 26 (3), 2010. pp. 226-241.

‘The "triumph of perception and taste": Women, Exhibition Culture, and Henry James’. Henry James Review, 31 (3), 2010. pp. 246-253.

‘Translating nudus: Modernity and the British Academy's New Clothes’. In: Adlam, Carol and Simpson, Juliet (eds.) Critical Exchange: Art Criticism of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries in Russia and Western Europe. Peter Lang, Bern, 2009 pp. 167-189. 

Critical Voices: Women and Art Criticism in Britain 1880-1905.  Aldershot: Ashgate (2005). 

‘(Re)viewing Whistler and Sargent: portraiture at the fin de siècle’ RACAR (Revue d’art canadienne/Canadian Art Review), 30, (1-2), 2005, pp. 74-86.

‘“Bribery with sherry” and “the influence of weak tea”:  Arbiters of Taste in the late Victorian and Edwardian Press’. Visual Culture in Britain, 6, (2), 2005, pp. 139-155.